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Listen to the conversation between Rosanna and Atelier Agahzadeh.

“I fell in love with rugs whilst I was [working as an] interior designer”, says Philippa Agahzadeh, one half of Atelier Agahzadeh, “and so I started talking to my husband, Ashkan, about how much I love textiles – all of the more textural elements in a room – and how important they are to me. As it turns out, he loves rugs too – and so we had this whole conversation that we hadn’t had earlier on in our relationship.”

The result of this dialogue – the coming together of two individual histories – Atelier Agahzadeh is a contemporary rug brand and a highly personal collaboration between husband and wife. Like a thread that runs through both families, Philippa and her husband, Ashkan Agahzadeh, both have their own unique connection to rugs and rug-making. “[Once] I had decided that I really wanted to make a rug, Ashkan had a lot of connections – his aunt had hand-knotted rugs in Iran and he had worked as a rug expert when he was living in Vienna – and I had my own connections from working as an Interior Designer in Australia.”

Originally from Persia, Ashkan comes from a culture where rugs are considered to be artistic expressions and objects of great historical importance, as well part of daily life in modern-day Iran. “[Traditional Persian rugs] are the rugs that Ashkan really loves: the super intricate, beautiful rugs from antiquity – but I don’t identify as much with those designs as Ashkan does -and so we have met in the middle with the way that we design. And, actually, the way that Ashkan paints is very abstract [whilst still] taking a lot of the influence from the texture and the intricacy of the traditional-style rugs.”

Working together to combine aspects of traditional design with a modernist sense of abstraction, Atelier Agahzadeh creates “really technical, detailed rug designs in a very contemporary manner … It’s a balancing act between what we both want to achieve – and different designs will pull closer to where I sit in terms of my design and practical needs, and other designs sit closer to what Ashkan feels is the perfect rug.”

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Philippa has an intuitive connection to the landscape, which looms, large and moody, in that part of the world. Growing up on the beach, Philippa would spend summers on her family’s sheep farm, feeding and caring for the animals, and watching the sheep shearers as they removed each pelt with great economy, in swift, smooth movements. “It’s such an impactful thing to watch as a child, and I can still smell the sheep shearing sheds.”

Taking great care to understand the properties of the materials that they use, Atelier Agahzadeh takes a mindful approach to their designs as they transform from paper into textile. “There are times when I won’t use merino wool because it’s a little more creamy, and so I’ll use a New Zealand wool instead because it [gives] a much whiter, more pure backdrop. [Another example is] Tibetan wool, which naturally has quite a lot of black or brown yarns throughout it, and so you could never get it as white as the New Zealand wool.” This acceptance – that things are the way they are – feels both contemporary and traditional, and follows Atelier Agahzadeh’s all-over organic approach.

Selecting materials for their natural beauty and their inherent qualities rather than beating them into submission, the Atelier’s colour palette is directly affected by their natural state. Colour -mostly muted, occasionally playful – has an equally important role in both its absence and presence. The absence of colour accentuates the drawn line as it meanders and mingles across the surface, whilst colour is used in a single tone – or gradations of it – focusing the eye on the subtleties of the rug’s construction – the different depths of the pile, or the way that each thread has been placed, with great precision, to the one next to it.

“The Mah collection is really difficult to make,” observes Philippa, of their series of circular, tonal rugs that take inspiration from the cratered, spherical surface of the moon. “It’s really detailed – you can’t tell just how detailed it actually is because of how contemporary it looks. To create those nuances in the silk and wool combinations is very difficult. It’s not got such a high knot count – around 125 knots per inch – which works really well for the way we utilise rugs -both in this design and in our homes.”

A balance between visual aesthetics and sensory feel must be struck, as the two aspects are tightly interwoven in rug-making. The construction technique and choice of materials will greatly affect the complexity of the design, the intricacy that can be achieved and how it feels underfoot.

“Persian rugs are much more intricate, and so the number of knots that you would have per square inch would start at around 300, and go up from there. Some of the more intricate detailed rugs in silk will go up to 1200 knots per inch … [Nowadays] we like our rugs a little more plush, we want them to feel really good. Persian rugs are not soft and luscious – they’re made to last 100-plus years and they’re meant to look very beautiful and detailed – but that’s kind of not what we need today.”

The relationship between fidelity and texture is renegotiated with each new design to find the right combination of materials and methods to achieve the desired outcome – “There are so many different ways of making rugs, and so we utilise a number of different techniques at Atelier Agahzadeh.”

Organic and free-flowing, the Atelier does not work within the constraints of a distinctive aesthetic or style. In fact, Philippa and Ashkan rarely stay within the boundaries of the rug itself, often breaking out of the rectangular formality of the traditional rug – drawing outside of the lines. Even when taking a rectangular form, unlike the static symmetricality of a traditional rug, lines and marks enter and exit the visual plane, falling outside of the perimeter in an uncontained and energetic manner.

The Mhzartwa collection fully breaks from convention; a contemporary take on labyrinthine rug design, it retains all of the informality and personality of the artist’s sketch. In black and putty-toned white, the Mhzartwa is a three-dimensional pen-and-ink drawing, a doodle that invites you to follow its sprawling curves that head in multiple directions. “I go into almost a meditative state when I’m drawing these – they take hours and hours and nothing is pre-planned.

Those are really special pieces to me because I really enjoyed the moment that I spent drawing them. I also love the fact that when the weavers are weaving it they’re also in a meditative kind of state, their motion is very rhythmic, which is very similar to the motions that I make during the design process.”

The same design woven in a single colour accentuates the rug’s sensory qualities, a true celebration of the tactile and the textural. Reminiscent of the ridges and furrows that appear in the sand when the tide goes out, the varied pile heights undulate across the rug’s surface, offering a subtle, soothing experience that is perhaps more pronounced underfoot. Many of Atelier Agahzadeh’s designs feature fluctuating pile heights which accentuate the design and, “give a sense of motion and rhythm.”

Atelier Agahzadeh’s process and output is akin to the experience of being at the beach – “it’s really natural, it’s really quiet – it’s just got the roaring sound of the ocean so you can focus on what’s really important: the sand is between my toes, the sun is on my face, I’m really here -and it’s perfect.”

Rugs serve both functional and decorative purposes in the home, and our relationship with them is deeply intimate as we walk, barefoot, across them day in, day out, and often from generation to generation. Creating a sensation, a feeling, a meditation – Atelier Agahzadeh draws on the natural world for inspiration and for their materials, and they also draw on history – both at large and on a personal scale – to create objects that are imbued with a sense of meaning, purpose and presence.

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